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“one is glad to be of service”

24 February 2011


my very first blog post doled out accolades to Frost Doughnuts, a then-new local purveyor of sublime treats. since then, Frost’s sweet creations have won numerous awards and press recognition, and the shop’s popularity has continued to grow. while the doughnuts remain the greatest, customer service makes Frost float to the top of greater Seattle’s vat of bakery establishments. and it’s customer service that’s compelled me to reconnect with my laptop, after taking some down time following my mom’s passing. truly, everything i know about exemplary customer service, i learned from her. and i imagine, everything she knew, she learned from her parents, who maintained their own wholesale and services businesses during the Great Depression.

my mom didn’t have an MBA (she actually acquired knowledge through experience), but she possessed great business savvy. more importantly, she had a genuine interest in other people, which endeared her to almost everyone she met. mom spent more than 25 years in retail selling cosmetics for Estee Lauder (ever-glamourous, my mother WOULD NEVER have been caught dead bringing her trash down the driveway without all her makeup on—seriously). as a teen, i frequently watched her in action as she enthusiastically greeted customers, listened to their stories, answered their questions—and made sales. she gained a loyal following, who remained steadfast until she retired.

when it became my turn to serve my clients, i followed mom’s example; i credit her with any measure of success i’ve achieved over the years. like her, i’ve humbly felt a sense of accomplishment in having been able to help others.

perhaps mom is putting out some pretty strong messages to the universe. but in the last few weeks, i’ve been surprisingly barraged with customer service encounters of the amazing kind.

  1. the Teno necklace i had worn for years broke the day of my mom’s service. fortunately, i found my dad’s wedding band that had been suspended on it at my feet. i gave the eulogy feeling naked and displaced. later, i mailed off the necklace to the Teno team in Las Vegas, and they replaced it in just a matter of days.
  2. American Express immediately interceded on my behalf when they learned i had been harassed by the customer service team at The Seattle Times (story to follow). the AmEx rep reversed the Times charges and initiated an investigation that was quickly resolved in my favor. i can’t speak as highly of their financial practices; perhaps they can take some cues from their customer service group?
  3. Campbell Nelson Volkswagen sales manager saved the day when i wasn’t able to get my car for service for two weeks. he scheduled the appointment on the day and at the time that best fit my needs. the service advisor gave me prompt and frequent updates, and the service team completed the work in record time.
  4. our new Seattle Times delivery person repeatedly ran over one of  our gardens and drainage areas (four times in a week), so the water could no longer flow into the ditch. i called and spoke with customer service. no action was taken, no phone calls placed to management returned. i canceled the subscription i’d had for five years. no one cared. didn’t i hear something about newspaper layoffs and subscriptions in the dumpster? i guess i was mistaken.

as Isaac Asimov’s Bicentennial Man Andrew Martin said—and my mom might echo—one is glad to be of service. cheers to those who continue to happily support their customers. to those who aren’t glad to be of service, you should probably go find something else to do. right, ma?


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  1. February 25, 2011

    It’s wonderful to find organizations who care about customer service and train and support their employees to do a good job in this area. But I suspect that when good service is not forthcoming, it’s because employees are not paid well and/or are not rewarded well…they aren’t given enough time or are rewarded for how many people they “serve” in a day vs how satisfied the customer is, or some such metric. I don’t think it’s fair to put the onus on the employee and what motivates them. They’re just people working for low wages trying to get by in most cases. Probably don’t have a lot of options. It’s not like it was in your mother’s day. And performance has very little to do with whether they will advance or be laid off. They probably have almost no control over their careers if they work for large, impersonal organizations and they are in call centers.

    • February 25, 2011

      i still cling to the notion of customer service as an opportunity to “do unto others…” as well as valued differentiation. i may be the exception, but as a consumer, i’m almost always willing to pay more, if the level of service i receive meets or exceeds my expectations.

      a short story about longevity: a dear friend (originally one of my customers) has been an independent Apple reseller for around 30 years. even when Apple squeezed margins, restricted product authorizations and opened their own retail locations in competition with his, the business survived (not always with great profits). but my friend’s work ethic, integrity, depth of knowledge and service levels were rewarded with loyalty/repeat business.

      clearly, different incentives motivate different kinds of people. i am, like my mother before me, most motivated by helping someone else. doesn’t matter what role i’m in or how much i do or don’t get paid to do it.

  2. Jules #
    February 26, 2011

    loved this post! brought back lots of memories of grammy and her ever expanding make-up collection! miss and love you 🙂 say hi to carla and the pups for me.. xox

  3. Your ever loving sister!! #
    February 28, 2011

    Okay, first time I had a chance to read the blog. I’m at work and now i’m crying!! It is an AWESOME blog and that is our ma to a “T” (especially the trash and full make-up!! Guess that’s why I’m the same way! LOL! I’ve been in the ‘customer service’ business for over 27 years and Ma taught me alot about how to treat people, guess the Gaines girls just have the right stuff! I miss her so much! Love you kissy lips!

  4. Sherry #
    March 3, 2011

    What a wonderful picture of the two of you.

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